Israeli Knesset to vote on divisive NGO bill

Measure aims to mandate public-funding disclosure from Israeli groups receiving more than half of funding from abroad.

Voting at the Knesset
Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (centre) introduced the NGO bill [Abir Sultan/EPA]

The Israeli Knesset has prepared to advance a controversial bill targeting non-governmental organisations that receive funding from foreign governments, amid accusations of a crackdown on human rights groups critical of Israeli policy.

Introduced by Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister who is a member of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, the bill will require NGOs who receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments to detail their finances online, as well as in public and promotional documents.

Dozens of Knesset members queued on Monday to speak about the bill in front of their colleagues, as reported by the Times of Israel.

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An earlier requirement of the bill stipulated that these organisations’ employees would be mandated to wear badges labelling them as being funded by foreign governments during visits to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

However, that was dropped last month when amendments were made.

Shaked and supporters of the bill claimed that it was designed for “transparency”.

In effect, however, the bill will impact human rights organisations because right-wing groups and settler organisations mostly receive money from private individuals.

Last month, Shaked defend the bill after the US ambassador to Israel expressed “concern”during a meeting with the justice minister. “Israel is a strong and lively democracy, one that doesn’t need the intervention of other states in internal legislation,” Shaked said at the time.

The bill also enjoys the support of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who said it is “much warranted” and denied claims that it is anti-democratic.

Steven Beck, director of international relations at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said that the proposed legislation is “another means of harassing and de-legitimising human rights organisations in Israel”.

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ACRI and other civil and human rights groups already disclose their funding with the government and make it public, Beck told Al Jazeera. “This isn’t a ‘transparency’ bill – it should be called the ‘redundancy’ bill.”

Noting that ACRI does not receive more than half of its funding from foreign governments, Beck said that the organisation nonetheless opposes the bill on principle.

“All it really does is put in the mind of the average Israeli is that organisations fighting for things like human rights are negative and subversive and foreign,” he said.

“If we are foreign agents for taking foreign money, then the government of Israel is a foreign government for taking aid,” Beck added, alluding to the US financial and military support provided to the country.

In a statement published in November, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem said that that bill is aimed at “maligning and defaming organisations” that criticise Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

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“Even as things now stand, without the need for any bill, B’Tselem proudly and gratefully makes public a list of its contributors,” the statement said.

“If the minister of justice and the prime minister are so concerned over foreign intervention in Israeli politics, they ought to start by waiving the millions from foreign business tycoons they receive for the benefit of primary elections.”

Also on Monday, the Israeli government coalition approved Netanyahu’s new bill enabling members of the Knesset to suspend legislators for “unseemly behaviour” with 90 votes.


In order to become law, the bill will need to pass several readings in the Knesset.

The bill was announced over the weekend in response to anger over three Knesset members’ recent visit to the relatives of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces while allegedly carrying out attacks.

Those politicians are Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Bassel Ghattas, all of whom are members of the Joint List, an electoral coalition that is popular among the estimated 1.7 million Palestinians who carry Israeli citizenship and live inside the country.

The Joint List’s Yousef Jabareen, who is a member of the Knesset, blasted that bill as part of “Netanyahu’s campaign against the Arab community and its leaders”.

In effect, Jabareen said, the bill would target Palestinian legislators, noting that it comes months after the Israeli government banned the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

“This is only the latest move in a long string of attempts to … completely disempower the Arab Palestinian leadership [inside Israel] and its community from taking any kind of active role in the state,” he told Al Jazeera.

Jabareen said the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel is “an important avenue to protect our community and defend its rights as a native national minority”.

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_ 

Source: Al Jazeera